Here’s some quotes I’m sure the wrestle web will react to calmly and reasonably...
In a new interview with Complex, WWE Universal champion Roman Reigns was asked if having AEW on the scene motivates him, if he thinks it will lead to a creative boom for like the one we saw during the Monday Night War era.
The Head of the Table said:
“No. I mean, not for me personally. This is one of those subjects that’s very subjective and there’s a lot of passion and tribalism that really sways and creates an unbiased opinion. But I can only speak from my perspective. I’m one of those guys who will compete at anything. Like, ‘I bet you I can eat that cookie faster.’ I want to be the best at anything that I choose to do. We pull up on lawn mowers, we cut the yard in half, I’m going to beat you. My side will look better than yours. So me, I don’t see the real competition [with AEW] because I think their fan base legitimately is a hardcore fan base. So there’s like a ceiling and a built-in ground to that viewership. [The WWE is] trying to connect with everyone. We’re trying to connect with the mainstream. We’re trying to pull in the casual fan. We’re trying to engage the new viewer, while also servicing our hardcore fan base and give them compelling stories to fulfill them as well.
“I don’t know if I’ve said it before, but I’ve said it before, when the audience is probably the biggest character in your show, that’s strange to me. You’ll hear it all the time, the reviews and the comparisons. I think because they are the new kids on the block, they’re the cool kids in town I guess because of how premature and how novel it kind of still is, I think there still being babied by these hardcore wrestling fans. Which is fine. That’s great. I don’t think anybody’s going to ever, especially from a performance standpoint say, ‘Oh no, there’s more opportunities out there? That sucks.’ So it’s not a bad thing. It’s a great thing for professional wrestling. It’s just a weird argument because there’s so much bias and there’s so much, ‘I’m on this side and I’m not gonna open my mind to the other side.’ And it goes both ways.
“As far as competition, not to me. There might be some other people on our roster who maybe think they need to dig deep and get better as a performer and what they do out there at the art form, but there’s nobody in the whole world, any other promotion, in WWE...I’m better at this art form than everybody else. And I stand on that. That’s the totality of it. I’m not just talking about, ‘Oh, his spots are so good and he counters real well.’ That stuff don’t mean anything to me. When you tally it all up, nobody touches me in this business.”
What about his old pal CM Punk, who came out of retirement in August to join AEW and really take all this talk of a new wrestling war to the next level? It’s another long answer, and it covers some ground he’s covered before. But it doesn’t convey a lot of respect for anyone on Tony Khan’s roster:
“So I answered a question similar to this a while ago, and it falls back to what our audience wants to see. If our audience wanted to see it and they were clamoring for it, couldn’t shut up about it, and all the stars aligned, as a businessman and as a performer who was trying to seek out the very best for the audience and try to captivate, I wouldn’t say no.
“But I mean, on a personal level, it doesn’t do anything for me. That’s not going to elevate me at all. He’s older now. I haven’t really seen a full match. I’ve seen a clip or two. And to me, a step or two has been lost. Then also he got his whooped in the UFC. I don’t think anybody really believes someone 200 pounds soaking wet with no explosive bone in their body could ever really do anything to me. I’m 6’3”, 265 pounds, a legitimate athlete who can throw some weight around and has been on the gridiron at the highest level. D1. All ACC. I probably would’ve maintained in the NFL if my health issues didn’t happen when I was 22 years old. So, I mean, when it comes down to it, I’ll throw him and pretty much the rest of that roster out the club no problem. They’re just little brothers, you know?”
There’s a lot here. Some of it is the confidence and swagger you want to hear from the top guy in any business or on any team. Some is probably the Tribal Chief character more than Joe Anoa’i the man. Personally, I think Reigns still holds a bit of a grudge against Punk for putting “make Roman look strong” into the fanbase’s vocabulary... but who knows, maybe I’m getting worked there.
Where I struggle a bit with these answers is in his assessment of the audience. After a year and a half of every pro wrestler & sports entertainer talk about how important live fans are, it’s strange to list the AEW crowd’s enthusiasm as a knock on their product.
It’s also strange to drag the “hardcore fan base” you admit you’re also trying to service, especially when I’m not sure the “casual fan” Roman talks about even exists in 2021. Are there folks who are less invested in the week-in, week-out product than ones who frequent sites like Cageside? Absolutely! But it’s likely they’d check out an AEW show they hear good things about the same as they would a WWE one. And the people who have no interest in wrestling aren’t likely to give any company’s product a try, not in an extremely fragmented media landscape where there are 31 flavors of whatever it is they are interested in available.
Nothing Reigns says upsets me, though. As a hardcore fan, AEW and WWE trash talking each other is interesting. And if I’m going to be proven wrong about casual fans, it will probably be by hooking them with quality smack like “I’ll throw him and pretty much the rest of that roster out the club no problem.”
Check out Roman’s entire interview with Complex here, and let us know what you think.